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A controversial vote in the House of Lords saw Peers back a Labour motion aimed at ensuring the devolved administrations are involved in the future operation of the UK internal market. The UK Internal Market Bill is Boris Johnson’s solution to creating a secure platform for UK trade after Britain fully cuts ties with the EU.
It will also allow ministers to override parts of Britain’s divorce deal with regards to Northern Ireland, which was agreed last year.
But fears were raised the new legislation will force Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland – whose members have opposed the Bill – to accept new standards on food, environment and animal welfare agreed by the UK Government.
Now a Labour-led change to the controversial legislation was lodged in the House of Commons and was debated in the Upper Chamber.
Under Labour’s plans, it will require the Secretary of State to seek the agreement of the devolved nations before making trade regulations and also makes the provision to avoid the threat of a veto.
However, the minister can press ahead but must publish a statement explaining why they have done so if consent by Holyrood, Cardiff or Stormont has not been granted.
Peers supported the Labour motion by 319 votes to 242, a majority of 77.
Speaking in the Chamber, Labour frontbencher Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town stressed the importance of devolution.
Highlighting the changes she wanted to the Bill, she said: “They don’t hand a veto to anyone of the devolved authorities.
“What they do is take further the very welcome admission by the Government… that it would be unthinkable to make regulations affecting devolved competencies without consulting their governments and legislatures.
“Our further step is to add a bit of ‘grip’ to the consultation by making it a real, proper involvement.
“It won’t cause any delay but it would ensure that there’s no risk of any tokenism in the consultation.”
Lord Bruce of Bennachie warned there was “real dismay” at the Government’s attitude towards devolution in the Bill.
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The Lib Dem peer made clear the Government had to recognise more consultation was required and it needed a genuine commitment to make devolution work.
Concerns about the Bill have been raised by Edinburgh as well as the Labour-led Welsh Government in Cardiff that consent must be given first.
Ian Blackford MP, SNP Westminster leader, said: “The Tory government is undertaking a full-scale assault on Scotland’s devolution settlement with its power grab bill.
“The Prime Minister’s disdain only serves to underline the growing threat we face.
“Scotland has been completely ignored by Westminster throughout the Brexit process – demonstrating that we will never be treated as an equal partner in the UK.
“It is clearer than ever that the only way to protect Scotland’s interests is to become an independent country.”
But Lord Callanan, business minister, said the Government had listened in bringing forward proposed changes to the Bill.
He said it “put beyond doubt our commitment to consult each of the devolved administrations if any of the relevant powers are used”.
He added: “However, once consultation is undertaken the right place for final decisions should be back in Parliament where parliamentarians from all parts of the United Kingdom can debate and vote on the proposed use of these powers.”
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, added: “New opportunities will open up thanks to our UK Internal Market Bill, now going through Parliament.
“The legislation will ensure our vitally important internal market continues to operate as it does now, free from damaging barriers to trade after we leave the Brexit transition period, protecting half a million jobs and over £50 billion worth of trade to the rest of the UK.”
The legislation has already suffered a string of defeats in the upper house, with peers voting overwhelmingly to strip out law-breaking powers which would enable ministers to override parts of the Brexit divorce deal – known as the Withdrawal Agreement – brokered with Brussels last year.
Boris Johnson faced a backlash from the controversial legislation after the UK government admitted the clause could breach international law.
Brussels launched legal action last month against the prime minister’s bill as a result.
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